BENEATH cotton-ball clouds and soaring pines, delegates gather
for the International Forestry Encounter:
* Chilean academics chat with Mexican campesinos in straw hats.
* Mexican government officials sit in the parched grass
extolling the merits of market competition.
* An Idaho sportsman listens intently to a North American Lummi
Indian representative discussing how modern forestry management
fails to cope with a sacred tradition of forest spirit songs.
Out of this intercultural blend last week emerged a new
organization: The Interamerican Forestry Network.
Comprised of delegates from seven nations - including a hefty
helping of Mexican campesino groups - the network is mainly an
information-exchange vehicle. The aim: to help small-scale
foresters find ways to fight and adapt to the hemispheric spread of
free trade agreements, privatization of forest resources, and
"We're in a very difficult situation. Most campesinos don't
understand the implications of the North American Free Trade
Agreement (NAFTA)," says conference organizer Arturo Garcia,
president of the Centro de Estudios para el Cambio en el Campo
Mexicano (CECCAM - Center for the Study of Change in the Mexican
"There's a growing discontent with agricultural policy, but
until now there's been no leadership or broad organization in which
to channel this discontent. We need to build a force which not only
can pressure domestic and international governments but develop
solutions to these new challenges," he says.
Some Mexican academics and indigenous groups are concerned that
free trade agreements between Canada, the United States, and Mexico
(and potentially Chile) will increase rural poverty here by opening
the door to more imports of low-cost lumber. Mexican small-scale
foresters have neither the economies of scale nor the technology of
their foreign competitors.
Canada, for example, is the world's biggest exporter of paper,
the second biggest exporter of wood pulp, and No. 3 in lumber
exports. Canada's forestry industry generates sales 15 times
greater than Mexico's. And Mexico's forestry industry is in
trouble. Between 1985 and 1990, Mexican forestry production, in
dollar terms, fell 9 percent.
The Mexican government recently enacted agricultural reforms
designed to attract private investment and give local landowners
more freedom over the use of their resources. Even so, there is
concern that this development path will not successfully support
the 17 million Mexicans now living on forest land.
"Low-cost imports will make most local foresters uncompetitive.
So, to eat, you'll see the campesinos selling their patrimony to
national or international corporations," says Pedro Magana Guerrero
of the National Union of Autonomous Regional Campesino
Organizations. "That means greater concentration of resources in
fewer hands, low-wage manual labor jobs with no alternative. …